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Fellowship Square Summer Season: “A real coming together of different styles and different cultures”

With dancing, light-filled fountains and five weeks of celebratory events planned, Fellowship Square is a brand-new cultural space for Northeast London that’s worth getting excited about. Building on the London Borough of Waltham Forest’s legacy as the first ever Borough of Culture in 2019, the opening events stretch from stand-up comedy to a giant picnic, plus the chance to buy a new frock from a local fashion designer. Creative Producer Ben Lloyd-Evans talks Rosemary Waugh through the programme and explains why he thinks the area’s cultural ecosystem is second to none – and how he’s recently become a self-confessed ‘fountains salesman’.

Rosemary Waugh: Let’s start by laying some groundwork: What is Fellowship Square?

Ben Lloyd-Evans:
Fellowship Square is a new cultural hub and a new physical space outside Walthamstow Town Hall. It’s been many years in the planning and I’ve come in to help celebrate the launch of the square. Essentially, the plan was to turn that space outside the town hall into something that is proactively welcoming with lots of different cultural activities going on. And there’s a brand new fountain – which is very exciting!

Rosemary: And how are you celebrating its opening?

Ben:
The real focus of the launch is five weekends, starting on Saturday 17 July, with different events and performances happening on each. The vast majority are free to attend and the only events which do cost money are just five quid a ticket – for example, the comedy evening. We’ve also got a couple of craft and design markets, art installations and a big community picnic at the end. The idea was to celebrate different aspects of the cultural ecosystem which the borough has in such riches and to welcome people back into spending time with the community again. One important thing to mention is that these five weekends are just the start. After this there’ll be a year of culture in the square.

Rosemary: The celebrations open with a weekend of open-air film screenings. Could you talk me through some of the different films that are going to be on and who can come to watch them?

Ben:
It’s an open-air cinema and it’s been curated by Stow Film Lounge, who work with Leytonstone Loves Film. We’ve got four feature films which are all currently fully-reserved – they are free but you had to reserve a spot – but there is a waiting list online that people can join. On both days we’ve got a matinee at 2:30pm and an evening show at 7:30pm. On Saturday we’ll be showing Wizard of Oz in the day and Rocks, which is set in Hackney, in the evening. And on Sunday, we’ll be showing Wadjda at 2:30 and, at 7:30, Bend it Like Beckham – with Beckham, of course, being a Chingford boy.

And around those are a load of short films with local connections or which are locally made. From midday, they’ll be screening things like The Tricycle Thief, which opens with a shot of the Walthamstow Town Hall. Then there’s an amazing array of short animations for families, selected by the Barbican Cinema, and lots of short films under the title Fellowship Films. We’ve also got some films from the Polish Cultural Institute, which is great - they’re going to be exhibiting soon at the William Morris Gallery. Everything is free to attend, but you do need to have booked a ticket for the feature films. Everything else, you can just turn up for and enjoy.

Rosemary: The other event that caught my eye was Comedy in the Square on 31 July, which includes a stand-up taster session. Can anyone take part in that and – crucially – can we expect to see you taking the mic and having a go?

Ben:
[Laughs] Umm… let’s see what mood I’m in, but I think I will leave the opportunity for others! We’ll be promoting how to get involved with the classes soon, but essentially they’ll be small, informal gatherings in a couple of marquees. You’ll be able to sign-up in advance for the classes and, possibly, drop-in as well.

The comedy weekend is overseen by Soho Theatre and we’re really excited about it. There’s those workshops and there’s performances. One is a matinee curated by a local social entrepreneur, Usman Khalid, who has a night called Laffucino. He’s from Haven Coffee - hence the coffee connection - and he’s put together an afternoon of refugee and migrant comedians. Then in the evening, Soho Theatre are putting on an all-star event with Simon Amstell, Shappi Khorsandi and Thanyia Mooretake. That one will cost five pounds and we’ll announce how to get ticket to local residents first so we can make sure they get priority. And I’m sure they’ll sell out pretty quickly.

Rosemary: There are also a couple of other events that aren’t performances as such – the Made in Waltham Forest Craft Market and the Waltham Forest Fashion Market. Why did you decide to include these in the line-up and what should people expect from them?

Ben:
During lockdown market traders weren’t able to trade anymore - apart from if they sold food or drink because then they were seen as essential services. We wanted to make sure we were giving those people who couldn’t trade – the crafts people, fashion designers and artists - creative opportunities. A market is a real coming together of different styles and different cultures which links to the theme of fellowship. If you can wander around a market and there’s 20 different traders with 20 different things on offer, that’s a brilliant way of including as many different people as possible. It’s also sustainable, as it doesn’t require much in the way of power, and it’s vibrant, family-orientated, daytime, safe and outdoors. During those markets there will also be local food and drink, a couple of surprise pop-up performances and some music curated by our friends at Continental Drifts. There should be a lot for people to come down and enjoy – especially if it is good weather!

Rosemary: When you first started working on curating the programme, what did you most want to capture about Waltham Forest and the people who live there?

Ben:
There were a few things, but the main one is just the sheer creativity that goes on in the borough. It’s really sparky and in every different genre possible. And you can see that already with things like the Walthamstow Garden Party and the E17 Art Trail which have been going on for ages. My connection to all this came from Walthamstow Garden Party where I was a producer working with the Barbican. Because of that, I’m aware of the sheer diversity of cultural styles and artforms that I really do think are uniquely strong in the borough. For me, it was a question of having all this amazing talent on offer and saying: let’s embrace that!

Rosemary: And finally – do you have a personal favourite part of the programme? Or, what are you telling all your friends not to miss?

Ben:
So I’ve become a fountain salesman in the last few months – by accident! People are taking the mick out of me for talking about fountains all the time. To my eye, the new fountain is just really exciting. There was almost a euphoria around it last week when we were testing it, with little kids running through the jets while being chased by their parents and friends – just a lovely feeling.

We’re still learning about its capabilities – it’s really high tech and you can programme it to be choreographed to music and things. I’m really excited about using those features and combining them with circus and performance. It’ll be really unique. But I should say that all the planned events – the comedy day, the cinema, the markets – take place next to the fountain, so if some kids come down in their swimming costumes they can just have some fun in it. After a year and a half of not being able to do things like this, this is absolutely what is needed.  

Fellowship Square Summer Season runs 17 July – 14 August 2021. Find out more about the programme here.

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